in the age of instant

Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back to the place I was before
'Relax' said the night man,
'We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like,
But you can never leave!'

”Hotel California” by the Eagles

the internet’s most impactful effect is the accessibility it gives to nearly everything. as our phones, cars, homes, and wardrobes float closer to the cloud - there are few parts of any day where real problem solving needs to take place. need directions? google them. want to recall that actor’s name? imbd him. trying to fix a leaky pipe? youtube it.

in fact, our entire online presence has been slowly funneled into just a few clicks. like that facebook post? here are all the ways you can “feel” about it - just pick one. enjoying that instagram picture? hit the “heart” button. in any given day your brain is making billions (most likely) of calculations, with probably close to 60,000 thoughts - why don’t you boil those down to 200ish characters and tell the world. are you a music lover? we’ll gather music you love and deliver it to you.

in other words, these tech tools are telling us, “sit back. enjoy yourself. i know what you need.”

but since when did we need all this - and how will we find “normalcy” now? for me, in high school, snapchat was just emerging. spotify was not around, at least to my knowledge. facebook and instagram were growing - but neither were daily activities. facebook has been prolific in creating a community and numerous partnerships that ensure you keep your profile active. “Log in with Facebook” assumes that the social media network will be a staple of your online life indefinitely. But the way these brands have entered our everyday life is astounding and frightening.

you’ll see people checking their pages while out with friends, of course. but people check posts while they walk, workout, and drive. this behavior has become more of a social norm. but since when did we feel like it was normal to share so much of ourselves? we post “stories” of our day-to-day activities as if what we are doing is monumental. i do not care about what you are eating. but even more so, why do you think that anyone does? I look back at some of the items that I shared, and I cringe. I can’t keep a commitment to journal routinely, but I find it so easy to let others know the what / where / and who about me at whim. it feels like the ease of sharing and watching has started to overwhelm the parts of the brain that require more intense stimulation to succeed. critical thinking, or thinking at all seem to be moments reserved for something serious. there was a time where at some point in every day, people like us would think critically about themselves, about the world, and about purpose.

my theory / concern is twofold. perhaps we no longer stop to consider the implications of our posts. everything is so at-the-ready now that by the time you post something, you’ll be ready to post eight more things, or just watch the other dozens of outlets for something to occupy your attention. and what is on all of these screens? advertising and branding that pushes all the right buttons. how are we ever going to keep up with ourselves? secondly, i fear that the majority of us have lost purpose or even a deeper connection with ourselves and our worldview. for me, i wish i had spent the time i used on social media to review maps and historical references. sure, there are ways to find inspiration online. there are ways to keep yourself motivated. but i feel jaded knowing that those abilities have always existed. the difference is that now when we don’t feel like doing anything, we have access to technology that allows us, even encourages us, to sit still.

running probably sounded more appealing to a kid when the only two choices they had were either to run or to do chores around the house.

i mention these fears and gripes with the social online because i feel like they are crippling our humanity. as mentioned before, they know what buttons to press to make us feel engaged. they need eyes so they can continue to rack up advertising dollars. think about the last time you saw an ad. where was it posted? now think about all the ads you see in a day, and where you can find them:

on instagram, while scrolling

on twitter, while scrolling

on pinterest, while scrolling

on facebook, while scrolling

on spotify, while listening

on podcasts, while listening

on youtube, while watching

online, by searching

on the radio, while listening

on the tv, while watching

on a page, while reading

in public, while traveling

consider that less than two decades ago it was only the last four that really impacted society at large, or even existed. our brains are flooded with wants now, and all of them are for sale. recently, I read a book titled Spotify Teardown: Inside the Black Box of Streaming Music. The book, written by five researchers, examines the Spotify service; the group catalogs how funding impacts the company Spotify is today, as well as the way Spotify uses music as a means to an end. That end being user data. Take this example: Spotify introduced playlists based on mood. while user-made playlists on iTunes or mp3 software could be mood-inspired, those playlists were still introspective. Spotify uses mood playlists as a way to catalog what a user should feel when listening to certain music, plus they collect when you listen to that music, where you are - and in most cases, they can guess what you’re doing. after months of using playlists like this, Spotify can group users based on these shared habits - and create profiles for advertisers. In fact, now companies create their own playlists for users: “Target Feels: All the happy songs you need to stick to your target list.” Which suggests two things:

One) that companies have a social identity, or are somehow meant to connect with us as a peer.

Two) Target purchases a large amount of advertising data from Spotify, and finds a generous return on investment. there is something unsettling about the song “I’m Your Baby Tonight” when it’s listed on a playlist from a company.

there is far more to the book than I can explain in a single post. It’s not a long read, and for anyone using the service - I think it is a must-read. there is so much we have yet to understand in regards to the impacts of social media on our world, but there is no doubt that a second-thought is long overdue. i believe we risk losing a great sense of self if we don’t stop to reevaluate how this information has shaped our self-identities. at the very least, i think it helps to consider what it means to share something in 2019 - and what that share means to us. like most things in life, balance is the key to a beneficial social media experience. however, before we can find a balance, we need to understand the reasons we share so much and decide if everything we share should be shared.